What happens when a storm hits? Severe thunderstorms can damage people’s homes and cars with hail, heavy rain, and floodwaters. Hurricanes and other strong storms produce high waves and storm surges, which push the water level of the ocean far above the normal level. In fact, storm surges can wipe out entire beaches along the coastline! People who live near the shore can lose their homes. All the wildlife that live on the coastline can lose their homes, too.
The good news is that nature—in the form of marshes, coral reefs, and barrier islands—can act as shields to protect the coastlines from storm surges. These work so well that they seem like superhero shields!
How can marshes, coral reefs, and barrier islands do this? These areas soak up energy from waves, wind, and flooding. So, all over the United States, organizations are working to fix and improve coral reefs, marshes, and barrier islands. People are helping to create, repair, or upgrade nature’s shields. Here are a few examples.
Coral reefs protect coastlines by creating a barrier or buffer against the flow of water pushing toward shore. The water rushes in, but the strong coral can block its progress and prevent some water from getting to shore. Unfortunately, pollution from humans can damage the coral reefs. That’s one reason the University of Miami in Florida is restoring more than 125 acres of reef habitat in the Miami-Dade and Broward county area. Restoring these reefs will protect the coastlines. These reefs also will provide important habitat for fish.
In Louisiana, the Jefferson Parish Coastal Management Department is rebuilding one mile of shoreline. They are creating up to 70 acres of marsh, tidal creeks, and lagoons. These will help shield the coastline from storm surges and improve water quality and wildlife habitats in the area. The project also will protect 1,375 homes and other buildings.
Sometimes these super shields work so hard and soak up so much energy from storms that they suffer a lot of damage. In Puerto Rico, for example, hurricanes Irma and Maria struck the island in 2017 and damaged the structure of the coral reefs near the coastlines. So, a group called Sociedad Ambiente Marino is rebuilding the coral reefs. The organization is using 3-D printers to help create artificial coral colonies!
There are many other people working to create similar improvements to help nature protect land, wildlife, and people. Once the projects are finished, these super shields will help protect cities and towns from storms and make them more resilient. That means storms will cause less damage, and the towns will recover faster.